The New York Times: An Orchestra Offers a Novel View of Music History

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“Leon Botstein, an indispensable advocate of the unfairly ignored, brought his ensemble The Orchestra Now to Carnegie Hall on Thursday for an evening of works that, despite covering a range of nearly 150 years, felt as fresh as a batch of premieres.

Botstein belongs to a class of conductors and artistic directors — including historian Joseph Horowitz, as well as Gil Rose of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Ashleigh Gordon and Anthony R. Green of Castle of Our Skins, and more — who bring an endlessly curious and almost archaeological mind to their programming. They operate on such a small scale, they can hardly reverse the course of American classical music history; but each concert, each recording, is an essential step in a better direction.

On Thursday, Botstein and The Orchestra Now, a capable and game group of young musicians, took the latest of those steps with Julia Perry’s Stabat Mater, written in 1951, early in that composer’s short life; Scott Wheeler’s new violin concerto, Birds of America, featuring Gil Shaham; and George Frederick Bristow’s Fourth Symphony, Arcadian, from 1872.

The mezzo-soprano Briana Hunter navigated her part’s surprising turns and plunges in Perry’s Stabat Mater with smooth and characterful ease. . . . Shaham, one of our sunniest violinists, entered Wheeler’s concerto with a singing melody on his highest string, and brought abundant warmth throughout. But he was also grippingly virtuosic in tricky, Sarasate-like passages of lyrical double-stops and left-hand pizzicato. ” – Joshua Barone

Photo by David DeNee

TŌN IN: Gil Shaham & Julia Perry

In this November 14, 2021 performance livestreamed from the Fisher Center at Bard, globally renowned violinist and Bard Conservatory of Music faculty member Gil Shaham joins conductor Leon Botstein and The Orchestra Now for the world premiere of Birds of America, a new concerto written for him by award-winning composer Scott Wheeler. Also on the program are Julia Perry’s dramatic Stabat Mater with mezzo-soprano Briana Hunter, and George Bristow’s rarely-head Arcadian Symphony in a new edition by Bard Conservatory professor Kyle Gann.

Read the full concert program by clicking here.

Scroll down below the video for timings and concert notes.

0:29 Introductory remarks by TŌN violinist Esther Goldy Roestan
4:11 Julia Perry Stabat Mater
Read concert notes by TŌN violinist Yi-Ting Kuo by clicking here.

28:09 Introductory remarks by TŌN violinist Esther Goldy Roestan
31:56 Scott Wheeler Birds of America: Violin Concerto No. 2
Read concert notes by the composer by clicking here.

54:08 Introductory remarks by TŌN horn player Ser Konvalin
1:00:37 George Frederick Bristow Symphony No. 4, Arcadian
Read concert notes by TŌN oboist JJ Silvey by clicking here.

THE ORCHESTRA NOW PERFORMS AT THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART AND PETER NORTON SYMPHONY SPACE ON DECEMBER 5 & 19, 2021

Sight & Sound Series Features Pianist Shai Wosner in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5
Resident Conductor Zachary Schwartzman Leads a Free Concert

New York, New York, November 17, 2021The Orchestra Now (TŌN) performs two concerts in Manhattan in December, one with guest pianist Shai Wosner at The Metropolitan Museum of Art as part of the Orchestra’s popular Sight & Sound series (Dec. 5); and a free concert at Peter Norton Symphony Space offering works by Berlioz, Britten, Tan Dun, and Sibelius led by TŌN’s resident conductor Zachary Schwartzman (Dec. 19).

In addition, TŌN also presents two performances of Handel’s Messiah at the Fisher Center at Bard conducted by Leon Botstein with soloists from the Bard Conservatory Graduate Vocal Arts Program, along with the Bard Festival Chorale, and the Bard College Chamber Singers (Dec. 11-12).

SIGHT & SOUND SERIES AT THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART
Beethoven, Cristofori & the Piano’s First Century
The Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium
Sunday, December 5, 2021 at 2 PM
Leon Botstein, conductor
Shai Wosner, piano
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5, Emperor, and Cristofori’s 1720 Grand Piano
As part of the Orchestra’s Sight & Sound series at the Met Museum, conductor and music historian Leon Botstein surveys the parallels between orchestral music and the visual arts. This installment focuses on Italian instrument maker Bartolomeo Cristofori, who deserves to be credited as the inventor of the piano. Beethoven’s “Emperor” Piano Concerto reveals the composer’s fascination with the musical possibilities emerging from the rapidly evolving technology of piano construction.

Cristofori’s Grand Piano is on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in the Musical Instruments collection.

Tickets priced at $30–$50; Three-concert series from $75; All tickets include same-day museum admission and may be purchased online here, by calling The Met at 212.570.3949, or at any desk in The Great Hall at The Met Fifth Avenue. Ticket holders will need to comply with the venue’s health and safety requirements, which can be found here. Children under the age of 12 may not attend performances at this time.

FREE CONCERT SERIES
Britten, Sibelius & Tan Dun
Peter Norton Symphony Space
Sunday, Dec 19, 2021 at 4 PM
Zachary Schwartzman, conductor
Berlioz: Roman Carnival Overture
Britten: Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes
Tan Dun: Symphonic Poem of Three Notes
Sibelius: Symphony No. 5
The Orchestra returns to Symphony Space with a free concert that opens with Berlioz’ lively Roman Carnival Overture, music that came from his opera Benvenuto Cellini, a work widely panned at its 1838 Paris premiere.  Next on the program is Britten’s Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, the composer’s first successful opera, which tells the tale of a fisherman pursued to death by local villagers.  Tan Dun’s Symphonic Poem of Three Notes follows with a score that expands the traditional orchestra with the sounds of wind, stones, and car brake drums. The program closes with Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony, written to celebrate his 50th birthday.  The performance will be led by TŌN’s resident conductor Zachary Schwartzman. He is also assistant conductor of the American Symphony Orchestra, former music director of the Blue Hill Troupe, and has served as assistant conductor for Deutsche Opera Berlin and Glimmerglass Opera.

Tickets: This concert is FREE, advance RSVP suggested at symphonyspace.org. Concertgoers will need to comply with the venue’s health and safety requirements, which can be found here.

The Orchestra Now
The Orchestra Now (TŌN) is a group of 65 vibrant young musicians from 13 different countries across the globe: Canada, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Hungary, Indonesia, Israel, Korea, Mongolia, Peru, Taiwan, and the United States. All share a mission to make orchestral music relevant to 21st-century audiences by sharing their unique personal insights in a welcoming environment. Hand-picked from the world’s leading conservatories—including the Yale School of Music, Shanghai Conservatory of Music, Royal Academy of Music, and the Eastman School of Music—the members of TŌN are enlightening curious minds by giving on-stage introductions and demonstrations, writing concert notes from the musicians’ perspective, and having one-on-one discussions with patrons during intermissions.

Conductor, educator, and music historian Leon Botstein, whom The New York Times said “draws rich, expressive playing from the orchestra,” founded TŌN in 2015 as a graduate program at Bard College, where he is also president. TŌN offers both a three-year master’s degree in Curatorial, Critical, and Performance Studies and a two-year advanced certificate in Orchestra Studies. The Orchestra’s home base is the Frank Gehry-designed Fisher Center at Bard, where it performs multiple concerts each season and takes part in the annual Bard Music Festival. It also performs regularly at the finest venues in New York, including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and others across NYC and beyond. HuffPost, who has called TŌN’s performances “dramatic and intense,” praises these concerts as “an opportunity to see talented musicians early in their careers.”

The Orchestra has performed with many distinguished guest conductors and soloists, including Leonard Slatkin, Neeme Järvi, Gil Shaham, Fabio Luisi, Vadim Repin, Hans Graf, Peter Serkin, Gerard Schwarz, Tan Dun, and JoAnn Falletta. Recordings featuring The Orchestra Now include two albums of piano concertos with Piers Lane on Hyperion Records, and a Sorel Classics concert recording of pianist Anna Shelest performing works by Anton Rubinstein with TŌN and conductor Neeme Järvi. Buried Alive with baritone Michael Nagy, released on Bridge Records in August 2020, includes the first recording in almost 60 years—and only the second recording ever—of Othmar Schoeck’s song-cycle Lebendig begraben. Recent releases include an album of piano concertos with Orion Weiss on Bridge Records, and the soundtrack to the motion picture Forte. Recordings of TŌN’s live concerts from the Fisher Center can be heard on Classical WMHT-FM and WWFM The Classical Network, and are featured regularly on Performance Today, broadcast nationwide.

For upcoming activities and more detailed information about the musicians, visit theorchestranow.org.

Leon Botstein
Leon Botstein brings a renowned career as both a conductor and educator to his role as music director of The Orchestra Now. He has been music director of the American Symphony Orchestra since 1992, artistic co-director of Bard SummerScape and the Bard Music Festival since their creation, and president of Bard College since 1975. He was the music director of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra from 2003–11 and is now conductor laureate. In 2018, he assumed artistic directorship of Campus Grafenegg and Grafenegg Academy in Austria. Mr. Botstein is also a frequent guest conductor with orchestras around the globe, has made numerous recordings, and is a prolific author and music historian. He is editor of the prestigious The Musical Quarterly and has received many honors for his contributions to music. More info online at LeonBotstein.com.

Press Contacts
Pascal Nadon
Pascal Nadon Communications
Phone: 646.234.7088
Email: pascal@pascalnadon.com

Mark Primoff
Associate Vice President of Communications
Bard College
Phone: 845.758.7412
Email: primoff@bard.edu

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George Frederick Bristow’s Symphony No. 4, Arcadian

Notes by TŌN oboist JJ Silvey

Subverting European Eminence
“How are Americans to win their way in composition unless their compositions are played?” This retort to critic Richard Storrs Willis by William Henry Fry, one of the earliest known American symphonists, would precipitate a public argument between the two men about the virtues of American versus European orchestral music, played out on the pages of a Boston circular. In his zeal to indict the American predilection for European music, Fry publicly praised the composition skills of George Frederick Bristow—then concertmaster of the Philharmonic Society of New York—and challenged the lack of esteem Bristow’s output was accorded by his own orchestra. The media circus, galvanizing Bristow’s resentment for the vogue of American institutions disregarding American music, led to his resignation from the Philharmonic Society. Like Fry, Bristow believed fervently in the cause of subverting European eminence in the American musical sphere.

An Undercurrent of Transcendentalism
Composed in 1872, Bristow’s Arcadian Symphony is perhaps his most fully realized effort at synthesizing the European musical conventions of the day with a uniquely American melodic poignancy. In listening to the piece, one readily detects the influence of German luminaries. Despite the music’s structural familiarity, there is a palpable undercurrent of transcendentalism. The symphony is grand in scale, much of the material having been borrowed from The Pioneer, Bristow’s cantata depicting the lives of westward-bound settlers.

The Music
The first movement begins with an affecting viola solo. The movement is comparable in length to the first movement of the Eroica Symphony, and the similarities between the two works don’t end there. Frequent use of hemiola, tutti chordal hits, and carefully paced textural contrasts all point to a clear Beethovenian influence. A tranquil horn solo opens the second movement, soon giving way to a low brass iteration in which Bristow quotes a theme by Thomas Tallis. This prayerful moment evokes noble simplicity, lending local color to a movement otherwise marked by sophisticated lyrical development and lush chromaticism. The third movement alternates a scherzando woodwind theme with bombastic chromatic interjections, both of which are interrupted before long by a steadying brass melody. After this reprieve, the scherzando theme increases in volume and intensity, bolstered by greater orchestral forces and the deployment of more complex counterpoint. The fourth movement is richly varied in texture and character. The exuberant opening undergoes cleverly executed mood shifts, lending the movement tremendous interest and dynamism.

Scott Wheeler’s Birds of America: Violin Concerto No. 2

Notes by the composer

The birds in my violin concerto Birds of America are not depicted literally, and it isn’t important for a listener to identify them, but quite a few birds make appearances in the work. The first movement includes a hawk, a whippoorwill, loons, and a mourning dove. The second movement, which features prominent solos for celeste and flute, draws on my music for the ballet Nightingale, developed with choreographer Melissa Barak. The finale is a dance, or a series of dances, perhaps set in an aviary.

One day this past spring, as Gil Shaham and I were planning this concerto, we took a walk in Central Park with his wife, the violinist Adele Anthony. We passed what I later learned was a downy woodpecker, which Adele filmed on her phone. That chance encounter inspired me to start the third movement of Birds of America with taps on the body of the violin, bow taps (col legno) in the violas, and a few high peeps roughly transcribed from woodpecker calls.

Some of the birds in this concerto are taken from earlier music rather than from nature, and are not specifically American birds. There are brief references to “Spring” from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, the opening of The Birds by Respighi, Schumann’s Bird as Prophet, and a novelty tune called The Hot Canary, famously played by the jazz violinist Joe South. As with the bird calls, the listener need not identify these cameo appearances from other music. Gil Shaham directed me to some of these references, and he advised me on many details of the violin part. Our conversations led us to consider questions of concerto writing from Mozart to Mendelssohn to Prokofiev and beyond. We agreed that the violin is essentially a singing voice.

Birds of America: Violin Concerto #2 is in three movements, marked Quietly Soaring, Adagietto, and Allegro vivo. The work was commissioned by Bard College for The Orchestra Now and its music director, Leon Botstein. It is dedicated to Gil Shaham.

Julia Perry’s Stabat Mater

Notes by TŌN violinist Yi-Ting Kuo

The Composer
Julia Perry was an African-American composer born in 1924 in Lexington, Kentucky. Upon graduating from Akron High School, she attended Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, where she received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, studying voice, piano, and composition. After that, she continued to pursue her musical training at The Juilliard School, and also spent summers at the Berkshire Music Center in Tanglewood, Massachusetts. She also received two Guggenheim fellowships to study with Luigi Dallapiccola in Italy and Nadia Boulanger in France. In 1959, she returned to the United States to teach at Florida A&M University, and later on became a faculty member at Atlanta University. In 1970 she suffered from her first stroke, which paralyzed her right side, and she began teaching herself to compose with her left hand while being in and out from the hospital. She died in 1979 at the age of 55.

The Music
Stabat Mater was her first major composition, and she wrote this piece while studying at Juilliard and with Luigi Dallapiccola at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood. The piece, which appeared in 1951, was dedicated to her mother, and it has been widely performed in Europe and the United States. It was written for a contralto voice and string orchestra based on a Latin poem by Jacopone da Todi (the score includes an English translation by the composer), and it is a story related to Jesus, Mary, and the spectator.

Meet the Musicians of TŌN: Horn player Ser Konvalin

In this interview, horn player Ser Konvalin talks to us about their favorite TŌN concert series at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and about changing the culture of orchestras to make them a better place for people from all walks of life.